• Transform magazine
  • April 17, 2021

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Five minutes with Paul Woods

Paul Woods 2 (1)

Paul Woods, CEO/CCO of global design consultancy Edenspiekermann, talks to Transform magazine about the design studio’s recent work re-thinking the user experience and artificial intelligence that drives today’s automobiles, why forward thinking car brands should think beyond third-party apps like Apple CarPlay and the role UX needs to play in a post-Covid19 world.

What can digital user experiences bring to the transportation sector, particularly the auto industry?

On one hand, technology enables incredible things- autonomous vehicles, smarter wayfinding systems, smoother navigation through airports, etc. However, there is an increasingly common behavior in the mobility industry where organizations- scrambling to jump on the innovation bandwagon- think that they can solve problems just by “buying the tech” like it’s some sort of commodity. Unfortunately, this never works out well in the end. Customers don’t fit into one box so the auto sector should avoid buying into tech-first solutions that don’t solve the problem. Put the customer first, understand their challenges, and you won’t go too far wrong.

How does custom AI and an equally consistent user experience help a car brand thrive?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with generic in-car platforms like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. They do the job. But, and it’s a big but, a car brand, especially a luxury one, is more than just a utilitarian object that gets you from A to B. It’s an emotional purchase, that usually aligns with your personal “brand.” Are you the adventurous type that swears by your Wrangler for off-road adventures to Joshua Tree? Or perhaps the environmentally-conscious millennial that wants to change the world in their Tesla. 

With that in mind, it is obvious that the technology inside the car reflects that brand promise, just as much as the physical design does. These days, the infotainment system in the car is essentially a digital cockpit that controls the whole car. To that end, if I want to control my Tesla Model 3, I want a Tesla Model 3 cockpit, not a Mercedes cockpit.

Why is it essential for brands to rethink how customers interact with technology, especially in light of Covid-19?

Right now, brand touchpoints are almost exclusively digital ones. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that that experience reflects the promise of the brand. It is no longer optional. Take, for example, the financial industry. In the past, it was entirely acceptable for traditional banking players to have bad digital experiences. Now, with the advent of trends like composable banking, fintech and non-physical banks are taking over the market. Add a global pandemic on top of that- a situation where physical locations don’t matter anymore- and you have a situation where the front door of your bank isn’t on the high street but on your home screen. For those that have made the investment—i.e. Fintechs—their new front doors are a lot more attractive than those of the traditional players.

Will we see an increase of UX projects in a post Covid-19 world?

The short answer is a resounding yes. However, the long answer is a bit more complicated. On one hand, technology has enabled society to pull through aspects of the pandemic- remote working, communication, online shopping, food delivery, etc. But, as good as this has been, in equal parts, technology has messed with us too. We are more exhausted and anxious than ever. There are no boundaries between home and work life. We never switch off. We doom-scroll. We have literally zero privacy. So while yes, UX will be a big part of a post-COVID world, I predict that in the coming years there will be a throwback to simpler times, when technology is less intrusive. Still there, yes, but less all-consuming and more utilitarian.